The Hot Rock in more ways than one
472 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge
March 22, 1999
With Holly Golightly & Mary Timony
The Hot Rock is the fourth album by the Pacific Northwest female punk trio Sleater-Kinney. Vocalist/guitarist Corin Tucker, vocalist/guitarist Carrie Brownstein, and drummer Janet Weiss deliver yet another solid album.
Named after a Robert Redford movie, Hot Rock’s hooks are not as catchy or accessible as they were on their previous album, Dig Me Out. There is also much less screaming. Granted, when people think of the Seattle music scene, a couple stereotypical, superstar bands come to mind. But Sleater-Kinney stays true to punk’s spirit of anti-stardom, at the same time putting together a far better crafted album than their popular “alternative” counterparts.
The difference is that while a lot of bands are trying to find their own distinctive sound, Sleater-Kinney has been refining what they’ve got: power and intensity. The intricate guitar lines are captivating enough, but when you mix them with the amazing vocals these girls weave together, the songs have a depth that is simply mind blowing. Admittedly, the first time I heard some of the songs, I got a bit lost. I was expecting another pop-punk album, but what I found myself listening to was a sublime mixture of Weiss’s drums anchoring Tucker and Brownstein’s combating guitars and vocal interplay. Corin Tucker’s silvery, nervous vibrato is quite distinctive and has a way of getting your attention. On The Hot Rock, she’s more in control of her voice than ever. It no longer sounds on the verge of gloriously bursting at the seams, as it did on Call the Doctor. Her voice has more shading now, adding hues to her ever developing vocals. On more than half of the album, she and the pleasingly supple, conversational Brownstein sing together, spurring each other on as they navigate the songs’ multilayered melodies.
“Start Together,” starts off the way all S-K first songs do, an epic call to arms by lovers not fighters. Corin calls herself a mess but a good one, like Luscious Jackson in “Energy Sucker.”
The title track compares relationships to jewelry heists, where you’re trying to figure out your partner in crime as well as the mission itself.
The subtlety of their vocals is sometimes devastating. “The Size of Our Love” assays the despair that settles in when a loved one is downed by a serious illness.
And on “Banned From the End of the World,” Sleater-Kinney face the future of rock-n-roll, not with dread, boredom, or uncertainty, but with excitement: “I’ve no millennial fear / The future is here, it comes every year.” Tucker closes the song with a line that could be the Sleater-Kinney manifesto: “We’re the band from the end of the world.”
Sleater-Kinney always seem to say it right; and nothing sounds trite or insignificant. The girls make you feel foolish for trying to guess their next move. As The Hot Rock proves, these brilliant punk pranksters can end up anywhere they like. But Tucker, Brownstein, and Weiss will still move you because, even though they stray from the straight-ahead punk rock beats, they still absolutely rock.